Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Apple removes WikiLeaks from App Store

Apple has removed the WikiLeaks App for the iphone from its App Store.  According to The New York Times Trudy Muller, an Apple spokeswoman, said the company had removed the app "because it violated our developer guidelines.  Muller added,  "Apps must comply with all local laws and may not put an individual or group in harm’s way."   Plain and simple, removing WikiLeaks from a store is an act of political censorship.   On one hand, the move  appears to  put Apple in a similar category as  PayPal, Amazon, MasterCard, Amex, and Visa -- corporate saboteurs of WikiLeaks doing the US government's bidding.    On the other hand,  Apple's move would not appear likely to cause comparable damage to WikiLeaks.

Actually, there's no comparison.  Apple's move, though largely symbolic, is utterly soul-wrenching.   Partly that's on account of the nature of Apple's decision: overt political censorship.  Yet the stench is worse because it evokes deep hypocrisy.  I dare say spiritual corruption.  Such a deed as this, at such a time as this, from this company!

The global dominance of the Apple brand today rests upon a wildly successful marketing campaign launched by a legendary 1984 Super Bowl television commercial.  The sixty-second spot is to be counted among the most famous advertisements of all time.  In the ad, Apple promised that "1984 won't be like 1984."  The commercial alluded to 1984, George Orwell's classic 1949 novel about daily life in an authoritarian global society set in the future.   On a practical level, Apple was declaring to the world that it's vision of personal computing (the Macintosh) represented a liberating alternative to the soul-destroying hyper-conformist business mentality embodied by then-dominant IBM.   Ever since, Apple Computer's ad campaigns have remained true to this brand image, continually reminding the public that Apple is forever on the side of society's non-conformists, humanistic creative pioneers like Gandhi or Einstein, individuals who "Think Different."   Jullian Assange would not have looked out of place on one of those Apple posters.

Arguably, in the late fall of 2010, not only the United States, but also the UK, Sweden, and the entire global community, appeared to have arrived at a particularly dangerous juncture in its history.  As I tweeted Monday, "The real threat isn't WikiLeaks, it's governments using the leaks as an excuse to take away freedom of speech/press."   This threat, according to the expert witnesses I heard speak at a Justice Committee hearing of the US Congress last week, seems all too real.   There is a growing sense  that the  success of the government-sponsored attacks on WikiLeaks could be a precursor to a global civilization characterized by more censorship and less free speech.

At a time when the WikiLeaks affair has alerted a number of people to the risks, it would be shocking to think that Apple has already chosen sides.  It would be just like 1984.


  1. I am hardly suprised. Apple devices always seemed to have been designed to think (perhaps differently) for their owners.


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  3. Yeah, I'm gonna call BS on this. Apple may be heavy-handed and Big Brother-like in its management of it's App stores but this is not censorship, it's corporate CYA. Censorship would be if Apple blocked you from accessing WikiLeaks data. It doesn't; as long as you can still open a browser and get to information, you're not being censored. Apple is merely saying it's not going to be an active participant. And to lump them in with financial companies that actually worked to quash WikiLeaks is disingenuous.

  4. Jack,

    Why not leave bullshit to corporate PR?

    By denying approval of WikiLeaks apps, Apple restricts public access to historically and politically important information. That's the outcome. You are free to make up all kinds of excuses for Apple, but I take it even you are not disputing the injury.

    To say Apple's motivation is the only criteria for crying out "censorship" is a cop-out. As Edmund Burke said, all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing. If, by playing CYA, you're abetting censorship, then you're abetting censorship. You're an accomplice to it.

    Institutionally, CYA is precisely how any censorship agenda gets advanced. However, there's more to consider here. As a large technology company, Apple benefits from a collegial relationship with government. From Apple's perspective, the less transparency, the less the public knows about the nature of its lobbying, its tax-evasion agenda, outsourcing, executive salaries, environmental exploitation (Congo rare earths, toxic waste disposal, etc), cooperation in surveillance (NSA), the better. Apple's senior management and large shareholders have demonstrable vested financial interests in less-than-transparent government.

    Where does a company the size of Apple end and the state begin? The boundaries are less than clear. I would argue it's as much in Apple's interest to censor government whistle-blowers as the government's.


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